Making It Contagious: What Makes Videos Go Viral?

The four worst words in digital video marketing: “Make it go viral.”

Yes, there are still people who believe it’s possible to create “viral” videos. They believe there’s some magical element, some digital pixie dust they can sprinkle on a video that will make it irresistibly shareable.

Most marketers know that creating a viral video is a lot like catching lightning in a bottle. But viral videos have several key elements in common: they evoke emotion in the viewer, they solve a problem and they spur a viewer to action. Of course, there are millions of videos floating around on the Internet that have all three elements and haven’t gone viral—but creating a video with all three of these attributes increases the chances that your video will be shared by a wide audience.

GEICO’s calculated risk

The best viral videos also take viewers by surprise—they can be surprisingly helpful, or funny or insightful. And sometimes, they can be downright silly. All of these things can draw viewers in and encourage them to learn more about a brand and its products.

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GEICO’s commercials are often both silly and helpful. But the GEICO gecko is more than just a funny little lizard—it’s the face of the insurance company’s fast, friendly customer service. In the gecko’s case, GEICO discovered its popularity by using data to determine whether the gecko could be a good bet for the brand. Viewers like the little lizard with the English accent, and the commercials are often funny and compelling enough to share. With an assist from hard facts, the brand was able to uncover a character that would become iconic for them.

Ads that make you ship your pants

And then, there are ads that are just goofy. Kmart’s latest viral videos have been helpful, but they’ve also surprised viewers into shock and laughter with their interesting take on customer service.

With online shopping becoming more common, free shipping is a big deal. So Kmart wants its customers to know that shipping their pants is more than okay—it’s invited. The punch line of a ship my pants commercial takes the viewer by surprise. Viewers share the video through social media, asking “Did I hear that right?” or “Can you say that on TV?” But for Kmart, the mission is accomplished—and their free shipping message is spread far and wide.

Reaping the benefits of cuteness

Never underestimate the power of cute. With sites like Cute Overload and Buzzfeed capitalizing on all things small and fuzzy, dog food brand Beneful uses puppies to create the most adorable Rube Goldberg machine ever.

What makes this minute-and-a-half video shareable isn’t just its abundance of dogs and puppies frolicking in tandem—it’s also the commercial’s ability to keep the viewer engaged. What comes next? What will the tennis ball do when a dog catches it? What will a wagging tail set off? It’s a fun mystery and compels viewers to watch to the end—and not only do they want to share the video afterward, viewers who own dogs might also consider getting the brand of pet food that helps dogs be as active and cute as the ones in the commercial.

Getting viewers to share a video is just part of what makes it viral—if a commercial is effective enough, it will also get viewers to take action beyond just sharing. Clicking a link to learn more about a product, or visiting a website to browse offerings, or calling a number on the screen is the goal of the best viral marketing videos. And while even the best viral videos can evoke a reaction or emotion in a viewer, unless there’s action beyond that, the video hasn’t completely done its job.

What works for your brand may not work for another. Use video to showcase your brand’s unique style, its sense of humor and its ability to help customers. Instead of worrying about going viral, focus instead on being useful. Your customers will thank you for it.

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